How do you deal with a guilty conscience? Some of the greatest works of art deal with the controlling power of guilt and shame, We think of Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Scottish play. Or Raskolinikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and punishment.
Guilt is very complex.
There is such a thing as false guilt – we feel guilty but the shame is not our own – it’s been imposed upon us by others’ deeds.
But there is also such a thing as real guilt – whether we listen to our consciences or not. It’s not just that we owe others when we wrong them. But when we offend others we also offend God. We owe him. Guilt weighs upon us. How do you deal with a guilty conscience?
If you’re a Christian you are told that you are forgiven and yet shame and guilt can still consume and control. They can shape ongoing behaviours. They can make us doubt that we’re gonna make it.
How do you deal with a guilty conscience.
That’s the concern of our writer in chapter 9 of the book of Hebrews.
We are guilty and we alone can never shift that human stain. But we are to take to heart that Jesus deals with our guilty conscience once and for all and forever by his blood.
Our writer starts in vv1-5 by again, as he often does speaking about the first and original terms of relationship, or covenant, between God and his people.
and the key thing was the tabernacle - this elaborate tent made to God’s instructions when Israel were in the wilderness and that later became the temple in Jerusalem. built to the same layout which was, v2,
a curtain from the outside - that brought you into an outer room - the holy place and then a second curtain behind which was an inner room - the most holy place. God’s throne - the ark of the covenant - was in this most holy place. And God’s glory dwelt between the cherubim overshadowing the atonement cover.
and v6 … priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But v7 only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.
only the high priest, only once a year, never without blood.
The worship of Israel was awash with blood. Every day animal sacrifices were made so that the people to continue in their relationship with God and the high point was this annual ‘day of atonement’ when the High Priest, representing the people, actually went into the presence of God carrying the blood of the sacrifice which he poured out on the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant.
Graphically teaching that Guilty, sinful people cannot be in relationship with a holy God. The wages of sin is death. But the sacrifice dies in my place meaning that i can be cleansed and draw near - that i can be in ‘relationship..’
But of course it wasn’t really much of a relationship was it?
Because of the offerings of all that animal blood, Once a year, one man could go in for a few minutes???
The chasm between God and people remains enormous doesn’t it?
Look at what Our writer says in v8: The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
The old tabernacle didn’t actually work because the sacrifices of animals didn’t actually clear the guilt of the worshipper. And the severe restrictions of any access into God’s presence made that abundantly clear.
v11. It’s a huge But
when Christ came …. everything changed.
Jesus’s sacrifice of himself on the cross was the fulfilment of everything of which the worship of the tabernacle was only a picture, an illustration, a model..
look at the second half of v12
and see that Jesus, our great High Priest, Jesus, doesn’t enter a room in a temple, year after year, with the blood of countless animals, only to stay for a couple of minutes
no look end of v12
he entered THE Most Holy Place
ONCE for all
by HIS OWN blood,
thus obtaining ETERNAL redemption.
he entered THE Most Holy Place
ONCE for all -
by HIS OWN blood,
obtaining ETERNAL redemption.
4 incredible realities. Let’s look at each of them in turn..
- Jesus entered THE most holy place for us.
the writer to the Hebrews has been telling us that the tabernacle worship was only a model, a picture to look forward to the reality which is Christ.
For a start God didn’t really fully dwell in the holy of holies in the tabernacle or the temple in Jerusalem. As if a building could contain the presence of God! If God had really fully been there in all his glory then the High Priest entering the holy of holies, carrying the blood offered for his own sins and the peoples, would have been blown away because the animal sacrifices being offered didn’t actually work, they didn’t remove guilt! The way into God’s presence was not yet open (v8)
BUT Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross for us really does work. Really does open the way for sinful human beings to be cleansed and to draw near, into the very presence of God!
v11 tells us that Jesus, having died and risen again went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.
or v24 Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.
Jesus opens the way into the true heavenly thone room.
The Lord God wants you in his presence. Do you know that about God?
Do you consider this that if you are a Christian you literally live your life in the presence of this holy God because Jesus has brought you there.
we might be tempted to take this for granted. Or not realise it and fail to enjoy its privilege. The way is open. Jesus entered the most Holy place for us
2. He did so ONCE FOR ALL
We’ve just moved into a new home and a new bathroom had been put in prior to us moving in and …there are some teething problems. A tiny leak from the shower that drips down into the sitting room. Not great! A lovely man called Lance has come to fix the leak. He comes and does some stuff and we rejoice on that day. But then the leak comes back. It’s happened about 3 times now and Lance will be back on Monday.
The Jewish day of atonement was a bit like that! On that day the Israelites rejoiced because their sins were dealt with and the way into the Most Holy placed was opened! But it was just for a day, just for a moment. The very next day ..the leak was back. The sacrifices had to be repeated. Blood shed every day. The day of atonement year after year after year..
But Jesus’ sacrifice is different. It is once for all. v25
[Christ did not] enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Jesus’ death does away with sin completely, finally, once for all.
Oh that our leak could be fixed once for all.
But Oh that our sin could be forgiven, covered. It has been once for all!
Which means there is nothing more to be done. There’s nothing that you or I contribute to our salvation. It was completed once for all before you were even born! There is nothing for you to do.
Ill. imagine a painter gives you one of her paintings, framed and ready to hang in your house. And before you do so you precede to break open the frame and get a biro to add a bit of shading to the sky!
Or imagine if you’re invited to a dinner party and the meal is served to you and you take it back to the kitchen to do a bit more work on the sauce
No - when you are given something that is finished, completed - The creator has laid down her paint brush, has removed his apron and said this cannot be improved on – it is not only needless but offensive to attempt your own contribution.
we often do think that our contribution matters that God favours us when we are good and frowns upon us when we’re bad. But no, the gospel is not about us. It is all about God and his free grace towards needy undeserving sinners.
We must humble our proud selves. And joyfully accept that No contribution is required.
[Jesus] has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
3. third thing to say. third part of v12 Jesus entered the most holy place once for all by his own blood
I’m a bit squeamish about blood. A few times i’ve gone for blood tests or given blood and i have to look away. Blood is meant to stay in the body! Blood coming out means life ebbing away.
The book of Hebrews is full of blood. The worship of Israel was all about blood. The writer says in vv15-22 that some some contracts only become legal when there is a death - a will for example. And all establishing of relationship between people and God, all God’s covenants required blood vv18-20 and all ceremonies in Judaism required blood to cleanse v21 because, end of the verse without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
our sins in the face of a holy God deserve death. the sacrifice of an unblemished animal provided a picture that another could die in my stead so that i could draw near, forgiven. The blood of a perfect substitute could cleanse me.
Of course it’s only a picture, a ceremony:
the death of animal - no matter how perfect - could never really take away human sin. It’s an animal.
Neither could the death of another human truly take my place - we are all flawed, we all have our own sin to pay for.
but what about the blood of a perfect human being?
13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
we all in our, selfishness, greed, lust, pride engage in acts that load our consciences with guilt - acts that lead to death. But the unblemished man, Jesus stands in our place and takes our death for us. the perfect substitute. he pays for our sin. his blood cleanses our consciences that, no longer separated, we may serve the living God.
guilt and shame can control us
Our enemy the devil – yes he is real – though defeated he still seeks to destroy faith and hope and joy and keep us in our sin. He’s a master shame specialist. He loves to dig up all the stuff that we might feel ashamed of. He lies about God and his favourite words are ‘You are not..’ What are you doing in church? You are not good enough. Call yourself a Christian? Think God is gonna persevere with you? You are not gonna make it. We believe his lies and guilt and condemnation can control us. If I think that I am a worm – I’ll behave like one.
But Jesus speaks a different word to us. He says to us yes you have done wrong but I’ve paid. Yes you have failed, yes you’ve been a hyprocite. But I’ve paid. I have paid for all your sin - past, present and future. The Devil says ‘You are not…’ Jesus says ‘You are MINE.’
Jesus’ blood forces us to refocus our concept of God. Do we imagine God constantly wagging a reproachful finger at us? Is he constantly demanding that we strive to be better, do more, live perfectly? Does he fill us with anxiety and despair? This is not the God of the Bible. The God of the cross knows our weakness and frailty – why else did he die for us? The true God anticipates out inability to keep his standards by taking the consequences of our failure on himself. All of them – past present future.
Every one of us now must not be controlled by guilt because Jesus’ blood never fails us.
Final thing from v12
Jesus entered the most holy place once for all by his blood thus obtaining eternal redemption.
Remember the High Priest on the day of atonement tip-toeing into the most holy place - never without blood. pleading the blood. ‘the substitute has died, please don’t kill me!’ pouring the blood on the atonement cover, the mercy seat and then getting out of there as quickly as possible. Only for a different priest, a year later to do the very same thing. Not exactly what you’d call access to God! it wasn’t.
By contrast look at Jesus. v24
24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, NOW to appear for us in God’s presence.
Jesus, after his death and resurrection enters heaven itself to appear in for us in God’s presence AND HE NEVER LEAVES. He’s there now.
7v25 says that Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Jesus constantly pleads his blood before the Father. Showing his nail marked hands. When I sin, jesus says I died for him. When Ioffend God, Jesus says I bled for him. When I am lost Jesus says, He is mine.
He is our ETERNAL High Priest.
There is never an end to his grace.
How do you deal with a guilty conscience?